Once More, with Clarity

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In a work, a specific scene is shown twice. The first time the audience experiences it, the scene seems to mean one thing. When the scene occurs again, it is shown to have a different meaning entirely.

Sometimes the scene is shown again the exact same way as it was shown the first time, with the only difference being the audience's new understanding of what it meant. Sometimes the scene is extended or re-shot from a different perspective to show the newly-revealed meaning. A frequent variation of this happens during a reveal that a character's perception of an event has been altered by a hallucination or False Memories: the first appearance of the scene is from the character's point of view, but once the audience discovers that's not what really happened, the scenes are shown again, but replaced with the truth.

See Chekhov's Gun and its related tropes for the seemingly-unimportant details that are shown to be important the second time around. Also see Fridge Brilliance and Rewatch Bonus, the times you see these important points upon reviewing prior scenes without the author's help.

Examples of Once More, with Clarity include:


Anime and Manga

  • In Monster, we see repeatedly in Nina's memories an image of Franz Bonaparta reaching towards her saying menacingly, "Humans can become anything." We later see that it was Bonaparta reaching out out to Nina telling her that she and Johan must not become monsters.
  • The flashback scenes in Giant Robo: The Animation are chock full of this trope. By the end of the film, they've completely rewritten who the villain is.
  • In Death Note when Ryuk talks with Light, telling him that humans who use the Death Note do not go to Heaven or Hell, and that Light will find out when he dies. Light, right before his death near the end of the series, correctly guesses that Ryuk said that because all humans, whether they used the Death Note or not, simply experience Cessation of Existence upon the end of their lives.
  • The first episode of Baccano! contains a collection of several scenes that make no sense. In the final episodes those scenes are played again and it's then clear that they show what happened to the characters at the end of their arcs.
  • In Naruto, Minato's battle with Kyuubi is showed very briefly in the first chapter. 500 chapters later, the battle is shown in more detail.
    • Another rather fascinating example: In the first few chapters of the series, Sasuke explains that his life ambition is to kill a certain person (out of revenge). We see a distinctive, shadowed picture of said person's face. Hundreds of chapters later, we see the face (in the exact same angle) again, as Sasuke remembers that fateful night with new clarity, and realizes that Itachi was crying out of remorse, because he massacred the Uchiha Clan (except his brother) to preserve peace and prevent a world war, and decided to take the blame for it all.
  • Madoka's dream at the beginning of Madoka Magica is shown again in episode 10, where we find out it's actually the events immediately preceding this timeline.
    • Another example from the same episode: Homura wasn't being a psychopathic killer when she hunted QB at the beginning of episode 1. She was trying to stop QB from making any contact with Madoka.
    • In-universe, Madoka gets a Clarity moment like this when she was becoming hope, as she became capable of observing everything in every timeline. Fans have combined this with the Ero-Homura meme, to great delight.
  • Pandora Hearts Has used this many, many times, to the point where we still aren't sure what really happened in many cases.


Comic Book

  • The very first issue of Paperinik New Adventures opens with the Evrons invading Xerba, the sequence ending with an unidentified shadowed Xerbian crying a Big No. Issue 0/3, titled Xadhoom, shows the final panel with more clarity: it was Xadhoom herself, who had just discovered what the treaty she had signed with the Evrons had allowed to happen while she got her powers. The entire invasion, from the signing of the treaty to what happened immediately before the Big No, was later shown in a special issue.
    • The Xerbians gave us this kind of scene again: issue 19 has a derelict Xerbian ship in the rings of Saturn and a recorded message from her captain, saying of how they were trying to warn Earth of the impending Evron threat but had been intercepted by an Evron cruiser. The special dedicated to the invasion shows how it happened, making clear they hadn't been found by the Evron fleet preparing to invade Earth but by a pursuing ship from Xerba, and the captain actually recording the message.


Film

  • In The Sixth Sense, there's a montage of flashbacks after Bruce Willis' character learns that he's been Dead All Along that puts the entire movie into a new perspective.
    • Particularly heart-rending is a scene that switches from a woman callously refusing to forgive her husband for being late - going even so far as to not respond to anything he says, and snatching the check just as he's trying to grab it - to a bereaved widow holding the anniversary dinner for her late husband, not realizing he's actually at the table with her.
  • This is a staple of Christopher Nolan films:
    • Used at the end of Memento. Previous flashbacks involving Sammy Jenkins and Leonard's wife are repeated with small alterations. It isn't made totally clear whether this really is Once More With Clarity, or if the new scenes are just as fictional as the old ones.
    • The Prestige had a montage near the end that revealed—ahem—that would be telling, and a magician never tells his secrets.
    • The opening scene of Inception makes no sense the first time you see it. It's played again later in the film, at which point all becomes perfectly clear. (Or as clear as this film ever makes anything, anyway; it's that kind of film). There's another one that turns into a massive Crowning Moment of Heartwarming and Tear Jerker the second time around. Fairly early on in the film, there is a scene of Cobb and Mal walking through Limbo together, holding hands. It's shown once more near the ending, during Cobb's final confrontation with Mal's shade. When she reminds him that he promised they'd grow old together, he simply says "But we did, don't you remember?" The scene from the beginning then plays again... with the Cobb and Mal we're familiar with replaced by significantly older versions.
  • The Bourne Ultimatum movie does this to the last scene of The Bourne Supremacy.
  • The movie Clue devotes the entire last half of the movie to a protracted rehashing of the first half. It's still awesome.
    • Watch it on VHS or on the DVD with the "all endings" option, and they do the rehash three times, each time claiming that something different was "really" going on. It's still even more awesome.
  • Fight Club does something similar during the realization that The two main characters are the same person. Scenes previously shown with one character are shown again with the other character--or scenes with both characters together are shown, but now the one character is alone and talking to himself.
  • The Saw series does this at just about the end of every film.
  • The Blind Side does this with the opening interview with Oher.
  • The opening scene of Carlitos Way is repeated at the end, and you realize that the first scene means almost exactly the opposite of what you thought.
  • In the 1994 Clint Eastwood movie A Perfect World, the first scene has an idyllic image of Kevin Costner lying on his back in a field in a sunny day. The last scene is the same—but with the addition of one or two important details that the first scene left out...
  • Kujan's last view of the bulletin board in The Usual Suspects.
  • The Diner Scene in Pulp Fiction.
  • Ocean's Eleven does this to show how the crew pulled off the robbery.
  • An example of this actually occurs using two different films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A scene that is shown in The Stinger of Iron Man 2 is actually a scene taken directly from the movie Thor, which was released a year after Iron Man 2.
  • The Shawshank Redemption features a scene in which Andy leaves the warden's office and returns to his cell. Someone seeing it for the first time is likely to believe that Andy is planning to kill himself. Only a few minutes later, the sequence is shown again with a few more details showing how he was putting his escape plan into action.
  • Hot Fuzz gets to do this more than once. Once with Sergent Angel's proposed reasoning behind Simon Skinner being behind the murders and then again with the actual reasoning as explained by the real murderers, the entire Neighborhood Watch.
  • In The Conversation, a surveillance expert investigates a recorded conversation between two suspects. The meaning of the conversation changes radically as he discovers more information.
  • Happens frequently in Atonement to show Briony's misinterpretation of the events that occur.
  • Terry Gilliam did this with 12 Monkeys where we start and close with closeups of the protagonist's eyes and watching a young boy.


Literature

  • Severus Snape's memories, given to Harry Potter at the end of Deathly Hallows give new meaning to several scenes from the previous books.
    • Not only that, but it also causes one to reinterpret just about everything Snape said or did in the entire series, whether or not you thought Snape was a good guy or a bad guy.[1]
  • Older Than Print: The Three Apples, one of the stories from The 1001 Arabian Nights, is very possibly the Ur Example.
  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Q-Squared, the scene with Q entering another plane of existence very forcefully happened twice: The second time after Q spent a literal eternity trying to get out of a Trelane-induced suspended animation (which included causing Gary Mitchell's megalomaniacal madness and powers in the pilot of Star Trek: The Original Series.)
  • Two subsequent books in Koji Suzuki's Ring series, Spiral and Loop, end with the same scene, but from the point of view of two different characters, and with a second backstory established that changes how we perceive what's really going on.
  • The Asimov short story In a Good Cause- opens and closes with a description of the biggest statue in the United Worlds plaza. The first time, it is simply a static description of the statue. The second time, the reader has knowledge that the idealistic guy whose statue it was did not truly deserve it, and the person who did will never have credit.
  • Lord Loss, the first book in Darren Shan's The Demonata series, opens with a poem about the eponymous demon. At first, the poem just seems to be simple character exposition... until the penultimate chapter of the final book in the series, nine stories later, which repeats the poem after some startling new developments. Appropriately enough, the chapter is titled Once More With Feeling.
  • Belgarath and Polgara, the two support novels for the Belgariad/Mallorean series by David Eddings, do this with a few events.


Live Action TV

  • Lost:
    • In one of the opening episodes, John Locke is shown amidst the wreckage of the plane crash. He stands up slowly and begins to walk around with absolutely none of the hysterical reaction to being in a plane crash experienced by the rest of the cast. The scene is shown again later, after it was revealed that Locke was a paraplegic before the crash, and it is clear that Locke's reaction (or lack of reaction) to the plane crash was caused by his amazement at suddenly being able to walk.
    • "Expose" opens with a cryptic scene of Nikki charging out of the jungle, saying something incomprehensible and collapsing. The characters think she said "Paulo lies" and try to figure out why she and Paulo killed each other. Then we see the event from her perspective, and learn that she said "Paralyzed," as spider bites temporarily paralyzed them both...but the survivors can't figure this out in time.
  • The BBC drama, Hustle, does this very well. They'll go back and show how many seemingly disconnected incidents from the episode actually fit together as part of the plan.
    • One of the best was in the Series 2 finale: The gang frequently play small tricks/cons on Eddie, the barman, cheating him out of a few quid and some drinks. So when Mickey surreptitiously rewinds Eddie's watch, tricking him into leaving the bar open longer than he intended, it is seen as an ordinary occurrence. However, Mickey would use the same technique later in order to create an alibi - photographs that seem to show they were at a social event (hosted by the police, and actually presenting an award to Mickey!) at the time that they committed the robbery. A flashback shows the original incident again, just to remind us that we could have figured it out (and give those who did figure it out a moment to feel smug).
  • Leverage often does the same as the Hustle example above, although the significance is usually fairly obvious the first time around if you're paying any attention at all.
  • Done on Dollhouse well, plenty of times.
    • In addition to numerous episodes that played with memories along the basic premise of the show, each season of the show had a Distant Finale. The first season's finale, "Epitaph One", was mostly set about 10 years in the future but included several flashbacks to events that happened at some point before that but after season one. Some of those happened in season two, and by now things had changed enough that those scenes' meanings were very different.
  • Criminal Minds episode "100" did this by making the audience think that a long tracking shot was in Hotch's point of view, when in fact, its the point of view of Agent Anderson, a very occasionally recurring character.
  • The Deep Space Nine episode "Trials And Tribble-ations" is a rather elaborate version of this trope, in that, by inserting Deep Space Nine characters into the original series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles", several events that occurred in the original are explained.
    • For a minor example, the original episode had a famous moment where Kirk opens a hatch and is buried by tribbles; even after the flood has stopped, a few occasionally pelt him in the head. DS 9 reveals that Sisko and Dax were in the compartment, trying to find one specific tribble, and throwing the others aside (unintentionally hitting Kirk) after scanning them.
  • Babylon 5 has several examples.
    • We see Londo's vision of him and G'Kar dying with their hands around each other's throats in the very first episode, but it's not until the third season that we know what's really going on, and not until nearly the end of the fifth season that we know how they got there.
    • The Time Travel arc also does this: in the first season's "Babylon Squared", we see a mysterious masked figure doing mysterious things; in the third season's "War Without End", we see the same events, but now we're seeing them from the point of view of the folks in masks.
    • Not to mention the episode where Delenn has to take a drug-induced flashback to when she was at Dukhat's side when he died. When seen the first time, it reveals that she cast the deciding vote in declaring war on the Humans, while stricken with grief over Dukhat's death. A later reviewing of the flashback, combined with some research in her family records, reveals that Dukhat was also trying to tell Delenn that she was descended from Valen.
    • And of course, the shot of Babylon 5's destruction. We see that same shot in different contexts no less than three times over the course of the series, with only the last shot in the series finale being what really happens.
  • Steven Moffat really enjoys doing this with his episodes of Doctor Who.
    • "The Girl in the Fireplace", "Silence in the Library", and "The Big Bang" all open with scenes from later in the show which don't seem to make any sense yet. The pre-title sequence to "The Big Bang", in particular, is thoroughly baffling until you see how it all pans out.
    • In "Flesh and Stone", we see a dying and terrified Amy being comforted by the Doctor—which seems a bit odd, considering how erratic and busy he'd been just moments earlier (especially since there is an apparent wardrobe continuity error). He says to Amy to remember what he told her when she was seven...which makes no sense. Through the wibbly-wobbly-ness of "The Big Bang" we discover that it's a future Doctor, whose time-line is being erased, and he's trying to tell Amy how not to forget him.
    • What makes it so very effective though, is that it doesn't necessarily seem that odd the first time round. This troper formed a theory very easily to explain what the Doctor said, and it's not so very strange that the Doctor should realise he's been too distracted, and come back to comfort his dying friend before he has to leave. As a result, the scene stands on its own merits without seeming to stand out or demand explanation, and that makes the reveal so much more surprising when it comes.
  • The season three premiere of Castle begins with Beckett chasing Castle, ending up face-to-face, guns drawn at each other and firing. When we revisit the scene at the end of the episode, they're actually chasing a husband-and-wife criminal team, they're aiming at a suspect behind the other's shoulder, and both fire simultaneously to drop them.
  • An episode of CSI New York cold-opens with a wounded Mac Taylor suddenly facing a dual-wielding character played Edward James Olmos who has the drop on him and fires. By the time the end of the episode rolls around and we get to that scene it appears that he missed, and Taylor shoots him. Only for Taylor to realize that he didn't miss: he'd shot his brother, who had been about to shoot Taylor in the back.
  • One episode of The 4400 opens with Tom and Diana pointing guns at each other. Flashbacks explain how they got to this point.
  • Prison Break did this fairly often.
  • Several times in How I Met Your Mother, mostly due to Future!Ted having to backtrack and explain bizarre situations that he glossed over the first time they tangentially appear onscreen, because they are entwined with a different story he's telling and would leave a Plot Hole, Noodle Incident or What Happened to the Mouse? if he didn't explain them. In one episode he literally can't remember how of one of the subplots he's describing went apart from a few details, and in his attempts to figure out the sequence of events he gets them wrong three times (winding up deducing that Barney managed to magically levitate a beer bottle for some reason), and actually gives up, telling his kids "I'm sorry, just forget about that, this story makes no sense whatsoever", only for his recounting of the episode's main plot to suddenly remind him how the story went about five minutes later—it happened several months after he initially thought it did, which is why it made no sense in context the first times he tried to tell it.
  • Done in the Supernatural episode "Roadkill" after the Tomato in the Mirror moment.
  • Occurs in the Sanctuary episode "Requiem." In the prologue, we see Magnus asphyxiate, begging Will to turn on the air vents, while Will watches mercilessly from the next room, making him appear effectively evil. By the end of the episode, we realise that Magnus was actually the one with the evil incentive, and Will killed her to purge the parasite in her brain that was causing this before she killed them both.
  • Done beautifully in the Buffyverse, relating to events that involved Angel, Spike, Darla and Drusila during the Boxer Revolution near the turn of the 1900s. In the scene Angel congratulates Spike on a succesful kill, and seems to be a little bored/unimpressed. It's only in the second showing that we realise how uncomfortable Angel must have been, since his soul and conscience had already been restored. - It's more compelling than it sounds, particularly because of the bizzare surprise factor; the first scene aired during an epsiode of Buffy, the second version during an unrelated episode of Angel, aired on the same night.
  • Both My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope regularly feature flashbacks from the point of view of a characters who later come to realize that things didn't happen quite the way they thought, usually with regards to a different character being responsible for something they themselves had thought to be their fault.


Theater

  • Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound performs a bizarre twist of this in its second act. Within the first act of the show on stage, there are several non-sequitur lines by the characters. In the second act, when critic Birdboot, and later fellow critic Moon join the cast onstage, these events are replayed again with expanded dialog that alternately makes more sense and comes off as even more non-sequitur.
  • In Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood, when we first meet the character of Bessie Bighead we see her putting flowers on the grave of Gomer Owen who "kissed her once by the pigsty when she wasn't looking, and never kissed her again, although she was looking all the time." That line gets a laugh. Later on in the play, when we've learned more about Bessie—that she's what today we'd call Down Syndrome—and that Gomer only kissed her because he was dared by his buddies, there is almost always a gasp from the audience when they realize what they had previously laughed at.


Video Games

  • In Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the Prince runs into the Sandwraith a few times. It does things reminiscent of the usual Evil Twin, like chucking an axe at the Prince's head or tossing him around a bit. Then when you get the mask of the sandwraith, it turns out the whole time the sandwraith was you. And most of the threatening things he did (that you're doing now) saved Prince's life. For instance, that axe from earlier flew past to hit a monster behind him that was about to shank him.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, this happens twice. First, a replay of the destruction of Nibelheim from Sephiroth's point of view reveals that Cloud was never there and his memories are fake. The second time, we see the incident from Cloud's point of view with his real memories restored, and find out he was there after all: he was the masked guard who followed Zack and Sephiroth around and barely said a word.
  • In Braid, this occurs in the last level. The first time through, the princess appears to be running from a knight, with you helping her to escape. Then it goes into reverse and you realize that all along, she's been running from YOU.
  • In CROSS†CHANNEL, during Kiri's week, one of the questions he asks her after Shinkawa's suicide is whether he was happy or not. She says no, and he drops the issue. Later, the same scene is repeated and he reveals that he had been willing to forgive Shinkawa if he wasn't happy. However, whenever he had seen Shinkawa they had gotten along, so he HAD seemed so. Basically, he was hoping for him to be miserable and when he wasn't, he was happy about indifferent to Shinkawa's death.
  • In Ace Attorney Investigations the opening scene of the fifth case makes use of this trope. The first showing seems to depict Edgeworth blaming Kay for setting the building on fire, while a later viewing shows that he is worried that she's trapped in the building.
  • In Call of Duty: Black Ops, during Revelations when Mason is finished hallucinating, Hudson reveals that Reznov has been dead since the second mission, and every appearence of him was in your head. All of his actions were either hallucinated or performed by Mason, and it shows several scenes from earlier in the game both as you saw them and with Reznov removed.
  • BioShock (series) may be video games' most triumphant example of this trope in the reveal that you are being controlled by the support character with the phrase 'Would you kindly?'
  • The bonus content from arc V of Master of the Wind, coming immediately after The Reveal about who the Sparrow is, is a replay of several scenes from another perspective along with some new scenes from that perspective to show what was happening behind the scenes during this time. A few parts aren't changed at all though, except from the new knowledge.


Web Comics


Web Original

  • The Olde English sketch "Photo Booth" plays with this, giving us repeated very-recent flashbacks to a couple in line for a photo booth. On the second use of the scene, we realize the couple, seemingly longtime lovers, met in the line. Then the trope is subverted when further flashbacks are actually different from what we'd seen.
  • The sixteenth episode of Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction does this when it reveals that Church is the Alpha by revisiting not only clips from previous episodes of the series, but even one clip from the end of Blood Gulch Chronicles.


Western Animation

  • Futurama's first episode has Nibbler's shadow visible on the floor of the cryotube room in which Fry is frozen. Nibbler himself doesn't appear until the fourth episode, and the reason why his shadow was on the floor isn't explained until the third season.
  • Mocked in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, when a flashback contains various additions like Peanut somehow snorkelling through the office in mid-air.
  • In an episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle gets a message from her future self. Future!Twilight keeps trying to warn Present!Twilight about some disaster, but keeps getting interrupted so she can't finish the message. Twilight freaks out because she doesn't know what the warning was about. She goes crazy until she realizes what the message was about: There was no disaster. Future!Twilight was just going back in time to tell Past!Twilight not to worry, but since she couldn't finish telling her, Past!Twilight freaks out. We know this when we see Twilight go back in time, but this time we have the full context.


Other

  • There is a public service announcement about being cautious of cyclists that has a basketball game being played. The viewer is told to watch carefully to answer a question at the end. The question turn out to be about a moonwalking bear. The commercial is replayed so the viewer can see the bear was in the original game.
  1. For example, Fridge Logic sets in when you realize that the real reason Snape could never stand to look Harry in the eyes was because Harry had the same eyes as his mother, whom Snape was in love with